With the Champions League having reached the halfway point of the group stages, it is as good a time as any to look at who has established themselves as favourites, who has underperformed and who might well prove to be a dark horse as the competition progresses.
Already one of the favourites for the title going into the Champions League, the Bianconeri added Cristiano Ronaldo, a seasoned performer in this competition. Through their three games so far they have not conceded a single goal with Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny barely having to work. The defence of Chiellini, Bonucci, Cancelo and Alex Sandro have been impenetrable. Miralem Pjanic and Rodrigo Betancur have done really well in all three games, dictating the tempo and Paulo Dybala has led the way up front with stellar performances – notching up four goals in three games. Cristiano Ronaldo has yet to open his account in the competition this season but the way Juventus are playing at the moment, it feels only like a matter of time before that happens.
Juventus take on Manchester United at the Allianz Stadium in Turin on Wednesday night
Another title contender, Barcelona have looked dominant in their group which has included some tough competition with Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan. They have looked efficient and played wonderful football on the way to notching up three wins out of three. Ivan Rakitic and Lionel Messi have been having standout seasons in particular. Messi has led the way for the Blaugrana with five goals in two games – having missed the last one against Inter through injury. Marc-Andre Ter Stegen has also enjoyed an impressive three outings. Their defence does seem to be a little off at times but on the whole, they look like a team that could go all the way.
FC Barcelona take on Inter Milan at the Giuseppe Meazza in Milan on Tuesday night
It’s not easy being in a group with Barcelona and Inter Milan but Tottenham have underperformed even by their standards, the latest result being a 2-2 draw in Eindhoven against PSV in a game where Spurs were the better side. Spurs seem to lack cohesiveness and the ability to see off games – they lost to Inter and drew against PSV because of that very reason. They have only got one point out of a possible nine and they have made life very difficult for themselves as far as qualifying for the second round goes. Harry Kane has performed and gotten goals (he has 2 in 3 games) but the rest of the side, especially captain Hugo Lloris, need to step up and perform better.
Tottenham Hotspur take on PSV Eindhoven at Wembley Stadium in London on Tuesday
The French league side have had a horrendous start to their domestic campaign and their European one is no different. Losing Fabinho and Thomas Lemar to transfers are especially proving to be difficult for Les Monagesques who have been unable to command any sort of authority on the field against their opponents. They struggled and failed to beat both Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid in their opening two fixtures and then laboured to a draw against minnows Clube Brugge in Belgium under new manager Thierry Henry. Qualifying is still a possibility but they will need to win every game and hope for more results from other games to go their way.
AS Monaco welcome Clube Brugge to the Stade Louis II on Tuesday.
AFC Ajax Amsterdam
Sitting pretty atop Group E at the halfway mark of the Champions League are Dutch side Ajax Amsterdam. No one took much notice when they beat AEK Athens 3-0 on opening day but a 1-1 draw against German champions Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena followed by a 1-0 win at home to Portuguese side Benfica have made them a surprise leader at the top of the pack on goal difference. There is still some way to go and this position is not a guarantee of qualification, with away trips to Portugal and Greece yet to come, but they have to be feeling good about being in the driver’s seat. Moroccan twenty-year-old Noussair Mazraoui has been particularly impressive at right back and has even notched up two goals thus far.
Ajax travel to Lisbon next to take on Benfica at the Estadio Da Luz on Wednesday
Although they are second in the table behind English champions Manchester City, Lyon have surprised a few people with their performances in the group. They turned heads when they beat City 1-0 in the opening fixture but subsequent draws to Shakhtar Donetsk and Hoffenheim have left them with 5 points from their opening three games – a haul that they surely will be happy with and will look to build upon. Lyon have had no problem scoring goals – averaging 2 goals a game – but need to shut shop more effectively to have a chance of progressing through to the knockout rounds. Nabil Fekir, Memphis Depay and Moussa Dembele have been among their top performers so far and will need to continue playing well
for the French side to progress.
Olympique Lyonnais play Hoffenheim on Wednesday at the Parc Lyonnais in Lyon.